By John Bolton
Foreign Secretary David Cameron recently suggested that the United Kingdom could recognise the state of “Palestine” before waiting for the conclusion of talks between Israel and the Palestinians. He said that recognition “can’t come at the start of the process, but it doesn’t have to be the very end of the process”.
This is dangerous ground for the unwary, including both Cameron and the credulous Biden administration, which is also musing about recognising a nonexistent state. Since the first Oslo Accord, if not before, it has been bedrock peace-process doctrine that both Israel and the Palestinians must agree to any “two-state solution”. Moreover, Israel is responding to a terrorist attack comparable to al Qaeda’s 9-11 attack on America, while simultaneously menaced by Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons. What kind of ally then puts a knife in Israel’s back?
Without agreement by the two most-concerned parties, there is no agreement at all. As former US Secretary of State James Baker often said, “we can’t want peace more than the parties themselves.”
Recognising “statehood” in international affairs is far more consequential than recognising a state of mind. In both treaties and customary international law, statehood has critically important characteristics, including having a defined territory and population, a capital city, and being able to implement normal governmental functions. There is no existing “Palestine” that meets any of these core criteria. Pretending that the Palestinian Authority (or Hamas for that matter) qualifies does not make it so. Indeed, wishing wistfully quite likely inhibits achieving the objectives statehood advocates supposedly want.
Imposing this key potential outcome of contentious negotiations almost certainly reduces Palestinian incentives to deal seriously with the Israeli government, which will in turn reduce Israeli interest in any deal. However much the Foreign Office dislikes Israel or Netanyahu, there is no justification for abandoning a key premise of the international state system.
The origins of the other-worldly notion of recognising a Palestinian state before there is one stem directly from none other than Yasser Arafat. Beginning in 1988-89 and continuing episodically thereafter, Arafat tried to have the Palestine Liberation Organisation admitted as a member of the United Nations and its specialised agencies. Because all UN agency charters limit membership to “states,” Arafat believed that admission would confer state status on the PLO, thus constructing not “facts on the ground” in the Middle East, but in the corridors of the UN.
President George H. W. Bush strongly objected to this fantasy, threatening to withhold all American contributions to any UN component that admitted “Palestine,” a threat ultimately embodied in statutory law by overwhelming House and Senate votes.
This is of far more than just historical interest. The threat worked until American resolve collapsed under Obama, allowing the Palestinian Authority to gain admittance to Unesco (from which Ronald Reagan had earlier withdrawn, with George W. Bush later returning). Obama’s mistake led to President Trump’s decision to withdraw. Biden rejoined. Should Trump win in November, count on a third withdrawal in short order.
Obsessively imagining a Palestinian state has thus caused real damage to the United Nations, which doesn’t matter that much except to the very types of people in the Foreign Office and State Department who also advocate early recognition of Palestine.
Rishi Sunak walked back Cameron’s frolic, saying the remarks had been “over-interpreted”. During Prime Minister’s Questions, however, he said Britain would recognise a Palestinian state when it was most conducive to the peace process, and stressed his commitment to a two-state solution. Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, any prospect that Israel would agree, already close to nonexistent, died along with over 1,200 Israelis killed in Hamas’s barbaric October 7 attack.
If further proof were required, consider Biden’s embarrassing efforts to negotiate a second cease-fire and the release of remaining Israeli hostages brutally kidnapped by Hamas. It was not Israel, but Hamas which effectively scuttled this gambit, by adding conditions guaranteed to provoke Israel’s rejection, which they did
Netanyahu made clear that Israel wants, as it should, “total victory” over Hamas. In World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt insisted that Germany and Japan agree to unconditional surrender. There is no reason Israel should not demand the same from Hamas. We can then turn to other Middle Eastern threats facing Israel and the wider West, nearly all of which emanate from Iran.
This article was first published in The Telegraph on February 10, 2024. Click here to read the original article.